New York Café

It’s a common phenomenon in most big cities: a decades-old, local's favorite restaurant or café eventually crumbles under the weight of mass tourism. Perhaps some diehard regulars continue their daily visits for a while, but once the press caravan and sightseeing buses pick it up, and the floodgates of camera-wielding tourists opens in earnest, they too ultimately move on. The waitstaff becomes rushed and impersonal, no longer interested in offering kind words to the unfamiliar faces. The final nail in the coffin is when the owners jack up the prices – who wouldn’t do the same when enjoying unwavering popularity? - rendering the establishment all but out of reach for local folks.

Budapest's New York Café has followed this well-worn path. This opulent café occupies the ground floor of the New York Palace, a grand building from 1894 and once the local HQ of New York Life Insurance Company (and today home to the five-star Boscolo Budapest Hotel). Part of the café's contemporary fame harkens back to the pre-war days, when it was the hangout of famed journalists, artists, and entertainers, who spent raucous nights here fueled by cigarettes and alcohol. Countless stories of their debauchery have become part of Budapest’s collective memory.

The space itself has had its ups and downs. In the early years of communism, a sports retail store opened here, selling sneakers beneath the frescoed ceilings. Thanks to a gut-renovation in 2006, however, the New York Café has regained its former glow. Marble columns, bronze statues, and stuccoed angels burst once again from the gilded interior.

But the New York Café hasn't regained its native spirit. Instead, what you will find here are tourists, packed like sardines, sipping on €7 cappuccinos and listening to a live gipsy band performing cabaret music every day between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. But even though it can feel like an engineered experience, the New York Café may still be worth a visit to get a taste of Budapest's turn-of-the-century coffee culture.